It was the second day of the race, and Emily Miller was pissed. When she pulled her Hummer H3 into Checkpoint 5, she was told that Stage 7, the day's last stage, had been canceled. In an ordinary rally, that would be great news; finishing the day early would mean dinner at a reasonable hour. But this wasn't an ordinary rally. This was the 21st running of the Rally Aïcha des Gazelles, an all-women's event that takes place every year in Morocco, and Miller wanted to win.
MILLER stretches while deciding...
MILLER stretches while deciding on the day's strategy
The winner of this rally isn't rewarded for going the fastest and clocking the shortest time. Instead, the goal is to achieve the shortest distance. Every day, the competitors have a list of checkpoints to hit, and they have to reach them in order. Each one is marked by a large red flag, and there's a person there to document when each team arrives. So even if a team sees a red flag flapping in the wind, it might not be the right one. Driving toward the wrong checkpoint adds kilometers. When arriving at the checkpoint, the rally worker there records the odometer reading. To determine the leader for each stage, the worker takes the distance traveled and subtracts the "as the crow flies" straight-line mileage. The difference in distance is the penalty for that checkpoint, and the driver with the fewest penalty kilometers is the winner. The prize? The pride of winning.
old-school navigation sys...
old-school navigation system
Participants here must find their way through brutal terrain. Mildly rutted washboard paths quickly give way to fields of huge, sharp volcanic rocks, the kind that like to slice up tire sidewalls. There are unforgiving rocky canyons with patches of sand at the bottom, silty dry riverbeds, and of course, the seemingly endless dunes of the Sahara. And the teams have to navigate the route with nothing but a map from the 1950s, coordinates, and a compass. No GPS. No nav. The rally tests the will, ability, and strategy of the drivers (more than 100 this year) to endure eight days of rallying over 2500 kilometers, entirely off-road. The pressure is on the driver to get the vehicle through and over this nasty terrain, but even more pressure is on the navigator, who has to figure out a route without the advantages of modern technology.